A teacher’s innovative way of teaching the Civil Rights Movement to students begins to resonate with them
By KRYSTAL NURSE
Seventh-graders at Clearview Regional Middle School learned about the impact adolescents had during the Civil Rights Era.
Social studies teacher Michelle Nicholson said, once a week, she would have her classes discuss Black History Month in relation to the teens and young adults who conducted lesser-known protests throughout the country.
Students Madison Polk and Connor Bowers said, in their lessons, they learned about people such as Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat at 15 years old in Montgomery, Ala. — nine months prior to Rosa Park’s famous protest; the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine high schoolers who were the first to attend Little Rock Central High School in Alabama in 1957 after the 1954 Brown v. Topeka, Kan., Board of Education ruling; and the college sit-in that took place in Greensboro, N.C., at a Woolworth restaurant in response to racial segregation in public places in 1960.
“It shows you how much that even though you’re a kid, you can still make a difference in the world,” said Bowers. “Whether it’s a small difference day by day, or it’s a big difference all at once, you can still be something even though you’re younger than many of the famous people.”
Polk added it was also another way for her to learn about the Civil Rights Era from the perspective of kids because she was always taught about Martin Luther King Jr. and other major figures, to find out some kids protested before adults did.
“All of us these kids are growing up and having their own opinions, own voice and people sometimes have to listen to kids to really get it,” said Polk.
Both added adolescents should have been given more credit for what they did due to the impact on what they had those issues.
Nicholson added students were also taught about landmark education-related civil rights protests and Supreme Court rulings in addition to the classic figures.
In relation to what they’ve seen or heard about in the multiple student-led demonstrations that persist currently, the two said they can see adults starting to take adolescents more seriously than before.
“They all stuck together to stand up for what is right, and they wanted to keep themselves safe like how people wanted to keep their things safe and wanted to make things equal,” said Polk in reference to the various protest surrounding school shootings.
“Back then I feel like it was more of a ‘you’re a kid, you don’t know what you’re talking about,’ but now that these kids have experienced it, I think that they should feel more empowered,” said Bowers.
Nicholson said in teaching the students this perspective on the Civil Rights Movement, her students have been able to make a connection to it that they likely wouldn’t have been able to prior, and has allowed her to learn about some of the struggles adolescents faced during that time period.
She added she and the rest of the teachers in the department haven’t thought about doing this for Women’s History Month.
“When I learned that kids our age did stuff like that, it made me look at activism differently,” said Polk. “You always think it’s an adult leading the whole group and kids are following that person, but they can go their own way and have their own voice.”
“Kids our age have a voice and it’s not just the adults and the big politicians at the top,” said Bowers.